Nigeria remains the most populous country in Africa and over the years have been knot with the inscription “Giant of Africa” – an allusion other African nationals find contentious.
This begs the question, what makes the green & white nation “giants”, even more one which reigns over all in the world’s second-largest continent?
Well, economic students gasconade about the stability of banking institutions and Nigeria being Africa’s biggest economy. In arms, the United Nations wouldn’t bat an eyelid to vouch for the country’s military – always ready to serve as peace keepers when called upon. In sports, the experts would relate the ‘dream team’s success in winning the football gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta (the first by an African country), as a feat which brought pride to all on the continent.
Football in Africa is more than a sport. Many have embraced the beautiful game as they do religion. In the North, East, West, South, and Central part of the continent, an acre of land inhabited is mentally pictured as a football pitch. The beauty, there is no age limit for participants.
In reality, the last time Nigerians were ecstatic about the performance of a top-division football club on the continent was (2004) – the year Enyimba FC remarkably achieved an unprecedented defense of the CAF Champions League.
“How come it took so long for a club from Nigeria to win a competition which has been in existence since 1964?” I hear you scream!
Truth, there have been representations, but none before the People’s Elephant chased the holy grail of Africa’s premier club competition and achieved ultimate success.
Rangers International Football Club were the first Nigerian team to make the final of the Champions League, a feat achieved in 1975. Unfortunately, the Flying Antelopes lost (3-1) on aggregate to Hafia FC of Guinea. That performance spurred believe and an exchange of baton as IICC Shooting Stars emerged runners-up in 1984 and 1996, losing on both occasions to Egyptian team Zamalek SC. Heartland FC (formerly Iwuanyawu Nationale) also made two finals in 1988 and 2009.
In terms of overall performances, the North envelopes the other subregions. They presently account for six (6) of the top ten football clubs in the competition’s history.
- Egypt (14 titles)
- Algeria (5 titles)
- Morocco (5 titles)
- Tunisia (4 titles)
Their dominance still evident as all four semi-finalists at the ongoing 2017 CAF Champions League hail from Northern Africa: Étoile du Sahel (Tunisia), Al-Ahly (Egypt), USM Alger (Algeria), and Wydad Casablanca (Morocco).
The supremacy of the North African teams befuddles the mind. Whenever I lay on my Nigerian-made-bed, two questions put me in a trance:
- What does it take to win the CAF Champions League?
- How soon will another NPFL team be celebrated as kings of African club football?
My thirst for answers trapped me in conversations with a few eggheads across the continent. Below I’d share excerpts from that electronic sojourn.
First stop, Ghana:
“Major factor these days is money. As the balance of power shifts from many traditional clubs around the continent due to more investment in relatively recently formed clubs, the biggest marker has become cash. The richer a club, the better its players, and the more successful they become. There are, of course, bound to be exceptions and fairy tale stories, but that’s the general rule. Other factors such as good technical teams and a decent away form are crucial, too.” – Gary Al-Smith (@garyalsmith)
“Heart and desire in my opinion leads the pack, way more than tactical work .That’s what separates Al Ahly for example. They always want to win and the determination is present. Also they hardly owe their players.” – Marwan Ahmed (@MarwanAhmed_KF)
Back to Nigeria:
“Football is sometimes not based on maths, there could be fluke results. But Enyimba Football club enjoyed good funding from former Abia state governor, Dr Uzor Orji Kalu and they proved to Nigerians that with competent administrators that are truly professional, serious preparations, quality players that are tried and trusted, an NPFL team can win the CAF Champions League. How soon, I can’t say. Big question is – do we have any team in the league that is enjoying the kind of consistency in terms of funding, stable management (Anyansi) and quality players that stayed put with a few tested legs coming to plug loopholes? Billion dollar question” – Godwin Enakhena (@genakhena)
“How soon can an NPFL team win the CAF CL? I’d say 7 years from what I see. We just don’t have the organization, Manpower and finances for it. Plateau United and MFM FC will just make up the numbers like we’ve done the last decade and half.” – China Acheru (@Ikwerreman)
“When am asked such a question, it fills me with humor. There is no one single explanation of what it takes to achieve a feat. But preparation, focus and commitment are crucial. Also, grace (luck).” – Felix Anyansi-Agwu (Enyimba FC Chairman)
Plateau United emerged champions of the 2016/17 Nigeria Professional Football League; a triumph achieved on the last day of the season. MFM FC shaved second place by one point. These teams will represent Nigeria at the 54th edition of the CAF Champions League scheduled to get underway in February 2018.
The former amassed the most points away from home (which is big deal) in the NPFL, while the latter flamboyantly aided by their triple o – Odey, Olatunbosun, and Onuoha, serenaded and failed to drop out of the top four from the start of the campaign until a CAF Champions League spot was guaranteed.
As very much a patriot as I am, my pen also possesses a mind of its own. So in line with fairness and equality, this piece would end with the thought of a patriot and ink of his pen.
PEN: These teams are amateur swimmers in shark infested beaches. Their chances are similar to that of a snowman in hell.
PATRIOT: MFM FC and Plateau United, completed the domestic season with no punishment – sanctions from the League Management Company (LMC), which shows discipline. If they fortify obvious loopholes, motivate the players in kind, take the few chances they’d create; we might erase what feels like a myth and truly become giants on the pitch once more.